Ecole Margaret Jenkins elementary students Corbin Timothy

Margaret Jenkins elementary celebrates a century this week in Victoria

Group of 60 Margaret Jenkins students create a bilingual graphic novella on Jenkin's life and influence on Victoria

Nearly two dozen relatives of Margaret Jenkins will descend upon her namesake school this week to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

“We have 23 relatives of Margaret Jenkins visiting from six different U.S. states, and some of them have never met one another,” said Hazel Currie, volunteer with the centennial celebrations committee at École Margaret Jenkins school.

Born in Wales in 1843, Jenkins spent her early years in Chile before moving to Victoria with her second husband in 1882. Jenkins became a tireless advocate of better schooling during her 17 years as a trustee, and became the first woman to have a building named after her in Victoria with the opening of École Margaret Jenkins elementary in 1914.

“If I had my life to live over again,” she said in a 1921 interview, “I would not change my estimate of the value of the child and the child’s welfare. … The child is the citizen of the future and no asset is so valuable to Canadian life as the potential adult which is to be the nation of the future.”

Community celebration

On June 6, École Margaret Jenkins elementary is inviting the community to celebrate their 100th anniversary on school grounds from 5 to 8 p.m.

The party includes a bouncy castle, outdoor games, a pirate school run by the Maritime Museum of B.C., face-painting and even a bike rodeo.

Through a 50/50 draw, the school is raising funds for a “naturalized playground” for future students, said organizer Shari Roubini, a parent advisory committee executive at the school.

“It’s something different than the traditional playground, where we have logs, sand, and even an amphitheatre so we can have outdoor classes for kids,” she said.

An afternoon tea and look back at Jenkins’ history – open to all alumni – takes place Friday from noon to 3 p.m.

Students celebrate Jenkins with bilingual comic book

Six years ago, students at École Margaret Jenkins Elementary began a project that combines research, art, language and conflict resolution skills. It’s the kind of project that adults often dream about, and one that, after a much hard work and patience, yields joy and magic for both teacher and student alike.

They’re publishing books – comic books – with the latest iteration chronicling the life of Margaret Jenkins in the lead-up to the school’s centennial celebration this week.

“It gives (students) such a rich understanding of the nature of story, by delving right into how you create it,” said Steven Toleikis, Grade 4/5 teacher, who has guided his students through the creation of five books under the direction of local artist Susan Abrill.

“This extra tool, visualization, really clicks for kids. Kids really respond well to metaphors. And visualizing a story helps to give them what they need to make their imaginations soar.”

This spring, Toleikis’ English stream class combined forces with the French Immersion students of Laurie Cairns’ Grade 4/5 class to create a bilingual graphic novella featuring Margaret Jenkins.

Books have varied wildly in content – from an adaptation of Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn, to musings on technological advances and future possibilities – while the creation process has remained a constant. Students research stories, illustrate cells, develop dialogue and ink their pages before they’re sent to Island Blue for publication and eventually wind up on classroom and library shelves.

(Below: Margaret Jenkins in 1913. Story continues below photo)

For the current project, beginning with Jenkins’ birth in Wales in 1840, this translated to much time invested in researching the time period.

“It’s not a historical document that they’re creating, but rather than put them in short dresses and bobbed hair, you’ve got to put them in ringlets and a long dress,” Toleikis said.

“You can imagine the richer sense of history they’re getting by approaching it like that, rather than just reading a story about Margaret Jenkins.”

Abrill, also an English teacher in the language centre at the University of Victoria, sees her role as coach, someone to offer drawing guidance and ensure holes in logic are sewn up.

And when it comes time for the kids to see their work in print – Abrill describes it as amazing.

“It gives you chills. The whole room is silent, crowded around each other, looking for their copies. The first book we made, I was so wrapped up in getting the thing done, that I was about to miss the most magical moment. (Toleikis) said: ‘Wait, watch this.’ He just got me to settle down and watch. … For a kid, even seeing their name printed inside a book is amazing.”

The novella is set to be released this Friday during the official celebration of the school’s centennial. And if all goes to plan, there will be a seventh iteration of the project next year.

“Comics have come along way from 50 years ago, from being banned, to now, when they’re really making their way back into the curriculum,” Abrill said.

“I don’t know of anyone else who’s doing this work in Canada.”

arts@mondaymag.com

 

 

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